State of emergency to lift in Newfoundland as forest fire situation improves

·3 min read

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador officials say the state of emergency called last weekend because of raging wildfires in the centre of the province will end on Saturday.

Wildfire behaviour, air quality and weather conditions were all encouraging enough to support the decision, the Department of Justice and Public Safety said Friday in a news release.

"The current forecast is showing favourable weather conditions and continuing to trend in a positive direction," the department said.

The state of emergency in the central Newfoundland towns of Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop's Falls and Botwood, and in the southern area of the Connaigre Peninsula, will end at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday.

Two forest fires near the central Newfoundland town of Grand Falls-Windsor and the nearby Bay d'Espoir Highway have been raging for nearly three weeks. They were triggered July 24 by lightning strikes during a period of hot, dry weather. As of Friday, their estimated total area was holding steady at just over 228 square kilometres.

The fires have caused intermittent shutdowns on the Bay d'Espoir Highway. Officials announced the state of emergency last weekend.

Premier Andrew Furey said in a video posted to social media Thursday evening that weather conditions were "co-operative" and officials felt the situation was improving. "The threat level has come down, albeit, but it is still there," he said.

Furey said patients who had been evacuated from the health-care facilities in the area were being returned. Further west, in the town of Deer Lake, an emergency shelter set up by the Canadian Red Cross for those fleeing the smoke was shut down and its residents were transported back to their towns, the province said Friday.

Justin Boudreau, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada in Gander, N.L., said Friday that the weekend forecast in the area called for rain, cool temperatures and even fog. In other words, he said, it was a good forecast for those battling the fires in central Newfoundland.

"If any summer could bring this kind of stuff, I figured it was ours," Boudreau said in an interview. "If these conditions continue, it's a reason to be cautiously optimistic."

Boudreau said winds were low Friday and air quality was good, adding that fog may roll into the area later in the day. There was a chance of rain in the area on Saturday, with "straight-up showers" expected Sunday.

There was a hint of smoke in the air Friday on morning, he said, but air conditions have been good for the past few days.

"If we were to get into more extremely dry conditions, I'm sure it would probably flare back up again," he said. "As it stands right now, we're not looking at any prolonged periods without any rain, or at least without rain around the area. It's reason to be hopeful."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2022.

The Canadian Press